Documentary or Thriller?

A Review of Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel


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As many true-crime fans were eager to watch Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, most found themselves quite disappointed with the Netflix documentary by Joe Berlinger. Although its use of impressing cinematography made it feel like a true thriller, the documentary completely missed the point of its purpose: being a documentary. This series was meant to describe the mysterious series of events that took place at the Cecil Hotel following the death of Elisa Lam, the 21-year-old victim. However, fans were quite disappointed as the documentary felt far more like a fictional TV-show rather than a true-crime documentary. 

When discussing theories as to what exactly happened, rather than examining the facts that the general public already has, the filmmakers took far too much time on the “what if’s” and explaining these “what if’s” in great length. In a way, it felt as if they were almost discrediting the true facts as they continued to make it seem like a story rather than reality.

What’s most disappointing, however, was the fact that the filmmakers truly exploited a tragedy. Despite the stellar cinematography, they cannot escape the cold, hard truth: they exploited Elisa Lam’s death. Rather than honoring her life and being respectful about what had happened and what could have happened, these filmmakers chose to make this a thriller to keep the audience on their toes. Some found it enjoyable, but most found it disrespectful.

Overall, Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel was not one of Berlinger’s best works. What should have been a documentary that presented facts and informed the general public about past events that occured at the Cecil Hotel was in fact a suspenseful thriller that kept the audience on their toes. Therefore, fans had every right to be disappointed with this documentary.