Crime Scene, Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel: Everything Wrong With Modern Documentary

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a Netflix true crime documentary. The plot retells the events surrounding the disappearance of Elisa Lam, a mystery that took the internet by storm.

I have been very interested in this case for a while, so when I heard there was a true crime documentary coming to Netflix about it I was all for it, however, once I put it on things quickly changed and now all I can say is please this documentary as it is exploitative.

First and foremost this film in the talking head section gives a lot of time to Youtubers, people who don’t have all the information or any kind of detective training: this is a red flag as for the first few episodes it gives them and there idiotic conspiracy theories a platform, said theories are not only entirely fictious but also disrespectful to Lam herself. Yes, this is somewhat addressed in the final episode when the youtubers admit they were wrong, but they have still had multiple episodes to spout there nonsense, moreover, the documentary shows how the web sleuths ruined someone’s life by accusing him without any evidence of murder, why? Well because he is slightly different from their rigid norms of course.

When a documentary features Youtube talking heads, over police and those involved in the case you know something is amiss: that is not to say there is no police officers and others in the know who contribute to the documentary, there are simply they get less screen time than the web sleuths and other overly keen amateurs.

Finally and perhaps worst of all, this documentary if it can even be called that, features a lot of half truths and misinformation. During one of the episodes the documentary tries to make a case for serial killer Richard Ramirez, having frequently stayed at the Hotel Cecil, despite there being little evidence of this and is more likely an urban legend made up to go along with the Cecil’s bad reputation. I understand that Netflix wants to capitalise on the popularity of their Night Stalker documentary but come on do some basic fact checking.

Overall, this and the Night Stalker documentaries are two different sides of how to do documentary, on the one hand you have a documentary that is well made, researched and has comprehensive police involvement on the other hand you have an exploitative documentary that is more primed to tap into people’s nostalgia about a creepy video they saw online: there does not seem to be any real regard for Lam as a person beyond ‘oh remember that creepy lift video’, and a bunch of failed youtubers trying to make a name for themselves.


There is some premise in the beginning


Featuring youtubers more than the actual police investigating the crime

Pushing conspiracies that have no evidence

Giving these web sleuths who ruined someone life to the point of having him try to take his own life a platform

Spreading lore and urban legend as fact


Reviewed by Luke    

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s