Review of Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel That Relates Elisa Lam’s Case

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It might not have been the most auspicious way to start off the new year, but if you were stuck at home during this year’s Chinese New Year, you may have indulged yourself in Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which has been trending during the CNY period. 

The premise of the case, as presented by Netflix, was deeply intriguing—the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, Elisa Lam, set against the sinister backdrop of a once-stately hotel now in shambles. Along with actual footage of the girl’s last moments that were captured in the hotel elevator, this true-crime documentary seemed highly promising at first glance. 

But was it worth all the hype in the end? 

Here’s a quick review of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. 

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

Background on the Disappearance of Elisa Lam

If you’re unfamiliar with the high-profile case of Elisa Lam, here’s a quick rundown.

Elisa Lam was a Canadian student who had been travelling alone through Los Angeles in 2013. She had stayed in the Cecil Hotel in downtown L.A. and would check in with her parents every single day. 

On the day that she was supposed to check out of the hotel, her parents did not hear from her. They then reported her missing, which led to a frantic search for Lam. 

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) decided to release video footage of the last time that Lam was seen to the public, hoping that it would help with the search. 

In what is now known as the infamous elevator video, Lam is seen behaving bizarrely in the hotel elevator, making strange hand gestures and pressing all the buttons on the elevator, peeking furtively through the doors, and generally looking panicked and distressed. 

Needless to say, the strange video shrouded the case in even more mystery and eeriness, which sparked massive global interest in it. 

You can watch the video here, but be warned: it’s not for the faint-hearted:

Lam was eventually found in a water tank on the rooftop of the Cecil Hotel by a maintenance worker, and her death was ruled as accidental due to drowning. 

It was discovered that she had been suffering from bipolar disorder and that she had not been taking the full required dose of medication for her condition surrounding her time of death, which may have played a significant role in the tragedy of her death. 

The Verdict on Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

While it cannot be denied that the Netflix documentary was filled with suspense, keeping audiences on the edge of their seat and waiting for bated breath for the big reveal, perhaps that was exactly where the problem lay. 


The entire show, which consists of four episodes averaging around 55 minutes each, could easily have been condensed into a single episode.

Instead, important information that should have been revealed right at the beginning was withheld, entertaining wild possibilities and conspiracy theories that allowed the show to stretch on for much longer than it should have. 

Examples include highlighting similarities between Elisa Lam’s death and the 2002 Japanese horror film Dark Water, as well as the fact that Lam’s name was identical to a certain tuberculosis test, entertaining the groundless assertion that perhaps she was a biological weapon or agent sent by the government or terrorist group to infect the homeless population in L.A.

Even worse, Death Metal singer Morbid was accused by Internet sleuths of being responsible for the murder of Elisa Lam. The documentary at first hides the fact that Morbid stayed in the Cecil Hotel a whole year before the case, and only reveals later that he was not even in the U.S. during her time of disappearance, indulging in the possibility that he could have been involved in Lam’s death—all for the sake of enhancing the mystery, entrenching the murderous fantasy. 

It was only revealed towards the very end in the last episode that Lam had been suffering from bipolar disorder, and that she had not been taking her medication around her time of death, which could have explained her behaviour in the elevator and eventually, her death. 

It is evident that Netflix capitalised upon the mystery and strangeness of the case to present a sensationalised, perhaps even a cinematic version, of reality. 

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Ultimately, when the curtain of fantasy and conspiracy is pulled back, Lam was a victim of mental health struggles that could have cost her her life. And Netflix did not do justice to that fact, instead choosing to give airtime to speculation over truth.

The documentary is now streaming in Netflix, and unless you’re one who only watches Korean drama with your account, this show should’ve popped up on your Netflix homepage every single time you log in.

Featured Image: Dennis Romero’s YouTube Channel

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