Last week, my brother came to visit me in Clinton. As one evening wore on, the everlasting discussion of what to watch on television surfaced.
Overall, we have very different tastes, and it has taken us over an hour to make a decision on multiple occasions. After circling through any number of options, we finally agreed to watch “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel.”
Before watching it, I knew nothing about the Cecil Hotel. Apparently, the hotel is quite infamous, and the fifth season of “American Horror Story” is loosely based on it. This true crime docuseries dives deeper into the dark past of the Cecil Hotel and the events that made it so famous. While the main storyline focuses on the disappearance of Canadian student Elisa Lam, it includes the aspects of prostitutes, drugs, murder, and suicide that gave the Cecil its reputation. I especially liked how the series chronicled the downward spiral of the Cecil from its glorious inception in the 1920s to its crime-ridden self in the present day.
Split into four parts, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel” features interviews from an array of people, including the hotel manager, previous guests, journalists, and members of the Los Angeles Police Department. The diversity of these interviewees is one of the best aspects of the docuseries and adds to the overall quality of work.
Another facet is that the episodes follow Elisa Lam and her extensive use of Tumblr. Like other recent true crime documentaries, this allows the audience to become more familiar with the victim. Lam used Tumblr like her own personal journal, so it really was like a sneak peak into her mind.
While the first two and a half episodes keep the viewer guessing, the final episode and a half is a disappointment. Key details are withheld from the viewer to increase drama. It doesn’t unravel organically. On multiple occasions, I was left thinking, “That would have been nice to know earlier.” There’s a massive amount of buildup, the viewer is drawn in, and then it ends in disappointment.
After being dissatisfied with the ending myself, I took to the Internet to see how others ranked it. Unfortunately, “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel” is currently at 45% on Rotten Tomatoes and only two out of five stars from Google reviewers. It seems a majority of people agree it was sensationalized, including my brother and roommate who has now seen it.
I will say that I truly did enjoy the history of the Cecil Hotel. It was intriguing, and I have never heard of anything like it. I really wish I could recommend “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel” on that alone, but unfortunately I can’t. Overall, I give this series a 6/10. That’s roughly how much of it I enjoyed. If you’re looking for a true crime series with a similar vibe, I recommend “Don’t F**k With Cats.” It’s good to the end.