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Elisa Lam: What The Netflix Documentary Missed About Her Death At The Cecil Hotel

Unsolved mysteries, strange occurrences, and untimely death are nothing new for fans of true crime. There is something clearly fascinating in the unexplainable. So it should come as no surprise to hear that for the last month people everywhere have been binging the latest Netflix-documentary-dopamine-rush: ‘The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’. 

The Netflix production focuses on the strange, winding tale of the eponymous Cecil Hotel, where the even stranger story of young Elisa Lam's death took place in the early months of 2013.

But with a runtime of just under four hours stretched over a total of four episodes, the series inevitably still misses out on key information about the infamous case that left true crimes frustrated. Similarly, with the Cecil Hotel being brought back into the spotlight nearly a decade after Elisa Lam's death, has the resurgence of interest spawned any new developments in the case?

We'll be running through everything that wasn't included in the documentary, as well as exploring how it has helped—or hindered— the investigation.

Accusations Of Poor Taste

One of the biggest responses to the documentary was against the choice in portraying Lam's death as a result of spiritual or paranormal haunting. Similar gripes were issued at re-enactments of Lam's movements, as well as readings of Lam's Tumblr blog posts through the voice of a professional actor. 

The documentary goes into lurid detail about the long, sad history of the Cecil Hotel. Critics have been quick to lambast the documentary's genuine implication that demonic or ghostly forces could be responsible for not only Lam's death but for a slew of crimes that have taken place within the building's walls as well.

Lam's family are noticeably absent from the documentary in its entirety, giving the presentation of her story a cold and callous touch, especially when Elisa's death was so heavily publicized—such as with the infamous elevator video— in the first place.


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Internet Sleuths & Conspiracy Theories

The documentary dedicates a significant portion of its runtime to a number of amateur 'detectives' who sift through corners of Lam's digital footprint in order to find anything that could be tied to her death.

While Elisa's death does share eerie similarities to the otherwise unremarkable 2005 remake of a Japanese film with the same title, Dark Water, there was no evidence to suggest that Elisa had fallen victim to a person determined to act out the film's plot in real life.

Similarly, the focus of one episode is applied heavily to a musician named Morbid, a man who online sleuths believed was involved in Lam's death.

But the documentary omits key information about Morbid, actually named Pablo Vergara, in an effort to make the claims against him seem more legitimate. In fact, Vergara is not the mysterious, occult-worshiping person the documentary presents him as. He is actually a film-maker with a number of awards for his work and has been associated with the case because he happened to visit the hotel, and enjoys metal music.

Negligence Of The Cecil Hotel

One perspective that the Cecil Hotel documentary has contributed to Elisa's story is one of negligence on behalf of the staff responsible for her care. While interview subjects during the documentary might ponder Why does the Cecil Hotel have such a menacing, ghostly presence?, it seems more reasonable for us to ask Why was it possible for a young, confused, and unaccompanied girl to wander aimlessly through a populated hotel in the middle of L.A.? 

It is slowly drip-fed to the audience that Elisa had been seen showing erratic behavior before she eventually went missing. Several members of staff were aware of this behavior, having moved Lam to a different room due to complaints. It was also known that Lam had attended a live filming session for a TV show, in which she attempted to pass on a hand-written note to a presenter.

The ambivalence and hesitation to feel anything beyond a 'meh' from the hotel's general manager, Amy Price, illustrates this beautifully. In a portion of Los Angeles that has been cordoned off and dedicated to society's undesirables (addicts, criminals, the homeless, etc.) the people living there have become entirely numb to its violence. 

In the documentary, Price and the Cecil Hotel at large show little remorse for Lam's death. To them, the discovery of Lam floating naked within the rooftop water tank was not a scathing manifestation of their indifference to the local people and their safety, but just more evidence of the rotten ground that the Cecil Hotel stands on.

The Sad Truth

The documentary, after toying with its own audience for hours, does eventually reach the sad, but most obvious solution to Elisa Lam's mysterious death: that a girl with a history of mental health problems who was not taking her medication regularly entered a state of distress in a dangerous and unfamiliar location.

The final episode of the series is where the focus becomes much more sober. Here we come to see a meta-commentary of the purpose of true crime documentaries themselves, as well as the indulgent and over-zealous behavior of would-be investigators.

And while Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel may have capitalized on the strange, untimely death of a young student, it does end on something of a high note. Perhaps now, after so many years of wild speculation, Elisa's story can be finally be laid to rest.

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