Hotel review

“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” review: utterly captivating

IIf you’re the type of person who listens to a lot of true-crime podcasts and/or lurks on Reddit, then you’ll know that the 2013 disappearance of 21-year-old Canadian Elisa Lam is, alongside the Maura Murray’s bizarre disappearance and the yet-to-be-discovered Delphi murders, your average detective’s favorite unsolved mystery.

If you’re not, here are the bare bones of the incident. Elisa Lam, the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a student at the University of British Columbia, travels to Los Angeles on vacation. She finds a budget hotel downtown, The Cecil, a 19-story resort in the heart of Los Angeles Skid Row, built in 1927. Originally a highly regarded business, The Cecil fell on hard times when the Great Depression ravaged the United States. in the 1930s. Thereafter, it became a haven for passers-by and a playground for crime. Serial killer Richard Ramirez lived there on and off. The RoomSpook website, which records deaths in hotels, says at least 12 people took their own lives within the filthy walls of the Cecil. There was a series of murders.

Elisa is due to leave on January 31. This never happens, nor does she call her parents, which she did daily throughout her journey. The LAPD is called. They search the area to no avail. Afterwards, they check CCTV footage from the hotel, which caught Elisa trying and failing to operate the hotel elevator. She is deeply distressed. Looks like she’s hiding from someone, unseen, in the hallway outside the elevator. The LAPD, clutching at straws, releases the video on its website. It is picked up by Chinese video hosting site Youku. Over three million people watch the video in 10 days and it goes viral. What follows is an orgy of rumour, speculation, guesswork and, as the internet attempts to unravel the mystery, some impressive amateur detective work. Elisa Lam is still a missing person, but she’s now also a riddle to be solved.

There’s something silly about discussing spoilers when it comes to real life and real tragedy, but Elisa’s disappearance is so weird and alluring that it’s perhaps best to approach Netflix’s latest true crime series with as little prior knowledge as possible. On the one hand, the telling of the story is structured in such a way that if you are aware of the many wrinkles in the story – like, for example, that Elisa had a form of bipolar disorder and used to not not taking his medication, a fact that the show takes its time to arrive – the series can make watching frustrating. And yet, come the final episode, the series makes a remarkable case for the good that the oft-maligned—and often rightly—true crime genre can bring to the world.

The Cecil Hotel inspired the “Hotel” season of “American Horror Story.” Credit: Netflix

While The Disappearance at Hotel Cecil is the story of a bright and adventurous young woman who goes on vacation and never comes home, it is also a mediation on the true kind of crime itself. It raises questions – like why so many people with no personal connection to a victim feel such emotion. This shows the seriousness of the consequences of a host of unregulated voices left to point fingers at strangers. He asks why we have come to a time when suspicion of the services – the police being a prime example – is at an all time low. It explores themes of victimization and responsibility. And, ultimately, it makes a sad and relevant point about how far we need to go in understanding mental illness.

In a sea of ​​real problematic criminal media, The Disappearance at Hotel Cecil is an island of good taste and great insight, taking its time to explore the sociology of the phenomenon as much as the sinister details of the case. Watch it and you’ll learn a lot about the people, not just the hotel’s most publicized tragedy.

“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” airs on Netflix from February 10

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