Double Feature: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) & Don’t F*ck With Cats (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a little different as I get the reviews for documentary mini-series out of the way. Being mini-series, it technically should be in its own segment as TV binges but Letterboxd categorized them as movies so here we are! The first is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel which is rather new as its a 2021 Netflix documentary and the other is Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting Down an Internet Killer from 2019, also a Netflix documentary. Let’s check it out!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Mini-series, 2021)

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club on Movies and Tea*

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a 2021 American docu-series about the vanishing and death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel. Separated into 4 episodes, it takes a look at the beginning, progression and finale of Elisa Lam’s vanishing and what happens. At the same time, its not only about the mystery but also about the investigation process and the involvement of web sleuths after the elevator surveillance tape was released online as well as the history of the Cecil Hotel from its early days until the present.

The documentary itself definitely has some good and bad elements. On one hand, the history of the Cecil Hotel and the area that it resides it adds a lot of knowledge. As the case builds from the one event, it digs up the horrors of the hotel and the dangerous people that lived there and how the hotel ended up with these residents. Through the interviews of the past manager, the past residents and the investigators of the case, it adds in a lot of perspective that feels like tangents to the mystery the the documentary focuses around but actually gives it a lot of foundation.

The mystery itself is done well enough. In some ways, it actually feels like the historical information about the hotel actually sometimes outshines the case itself mostly because the case itself uses a narrator as a voice-over reading Elisa Lam’s online entries and thoughts and plays it out in a blurry image while also adding in some of the real footage from the news and the investigation. The case is rather mysterious especially with the elevator surveillance tape that gets released and web sleuths who try to decipher this footage and all the questions that it raises. Ever since Don’t F*ck With Cats docu-series was released, web sleuths seems to be a hot commodity to add into mysteries, perhaps more pushed forward by the fact that Unsolved Mysteries have been revived on Netflix as well.

For this docu-series, where it does falls short is that it never really pinpoints a solid direction in execution and sometimes feels like it wants to touch on too many different issues from online bullying, mental illness, Cecil Hotel, who is at fault, etc. All these issues are big things to talk about and yet, the big points of mental illness, which should have been the focus didn’t have as much time to dive into, since that should have been the big takeaway from this one. However, at the end of the day, for those unfamiliar with Elisa Lam’s case and the Cecil Hotel, it is a rather fascinating one in terms of the information that it offers.

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mini-series, 2019)

A group of online justice seekers track down a guy who posted a video of himself killing kittens. – IMDB

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a 4 episode mini docu-series on Netflix that highlights the trek of web sleuths tracing down a kitten killer after releasing a brutal video which leads to a bigger case which involved the killing of young man filmed and released to the public as well. Its hard to talk about Don’t F*ck With Cats being the main reason that it follows a case that is tracked down to a killer located in Montreal, a city that I personally grew up in. The places this killer frequented and lived are areas familiar to myself and for that, its one of the reasons that makes this documentary probably one that hits a lot harder especially the unsettling feeling that unspeakable things could be happening all around us and no one ever really knows. I’m not naive to believe that that isn’t that case, but watching something like this definitely brings that out.

With that said, Don’t F*ck With Cats on one hand is well-executed as a documentary. It starts off focusing heavily on web sleuths and the power of the Internet that pretty much using the right avenues, you can probably track down anything. Other than the very disturbing video of the kitten killings, the web sleuths part actually is an entertaining and intriguing as the community comes together but also leads up to a conclusive thought at the end that gives the viewers a final question to ponder on whether they were the push that caused the killer to elevate to bigger crimes. I’m getting ahead of myself but the idea of this hunt moving between the Internet killers and how it tracks from a single video to eventually being able to pinpoint a location by the end and eventually provide information to the police to hopefully help with their investigation is a fascinating sort of journey as it also parallels with the inevitable focus on the crimes of Luka Magnotta. There are also uses of videos from when the investigation was going on and such which always adds to documentaries.

To be honest, Don’t F*ck With Cats is a really good documentary. On one hand, its one to definitely watch as its focus on web sleuths and the power of Internet is quite intriguing and triumphant for the most part for what they were able to discover however, on the other hand, its also a disturbing case and one that should be highlighted but then as Luka Magnotta is still alive, it almost seems unfair to bring him that spotlight given the information even though the show does make a good point to give space for friends of his human victim to talk about this person whose life was ended so young. In some ways, while the case revolves around the killer and proves how the Internet is a powerful tool when used correctly. The biggest takeaway is that the Internet is great in some ways and also horrible in other ways. The openness of it brings on its own consequences and in the end, that message is shown clearly giving the documentary a good amount to ponder on.

TV Binge: Unsolved Mysteries (Season 1, 2020)

Unsolved Mysteries (Season 1, 2020)

unsolved mysteries

Immersive, character-driven stories are rooted in the experiences of ordinary people who have lived the unthinkable. Families, detectives and journalists hope viewers hold the clues to solving these mysteries. – IMDB

Some revivals are incredibly welcome! Unsolved Mysteries is definitely one of those. Netflix has picked up a true gem with this one. Whether people are watching this because of nostalgia of the original show and looking forward to see what they do now or just finding out about it with this show because its on Netflix, anyone who enjoys this type of cold case will be intrigued by all the six cases presented in Season 1.

There’s a good variety in its case selections. There is an international case, a more familiar mystery like UFO and then a few different intriguing cases of missing people whether its the situation or the suspect. The setup of each one goes into detail from the witnesses to the family and friends involved. Each case is pieced together in the form of a timeline after a general introduction of the case at hand which feels thorough investigation and research has been done. There’s a lot of re-evaluation from the current information, knowledge, deduction at the time. Whether its missing pieces of the puzzle to figure out what actually happened  to missing key pieces of evidence that could lead to the suspected killers, each unsolved mystery has its own element of suspense. Its one thing to watch thrillers, suspense and mystery in a movie but Unsolved Mysteries brings up the fact of all these real life mysteries that hasn’t been solved which is a rather chilling feeling.

I don’t want to put any spoilers here so I’m going to avoid going into too much detail. While all the cases have incredible discussion value and for some, its initiated its reopening of cases and a lot of tips sent in online as well as forums where people are sharing their theories and investigations online which is a great way of motivating the general public to join into this. Its a very Zodiac sort of deal where sometimes the people outside of the case might have their own views and understandings. Whether the cases eventually get cracked or not, its definitely brought a few of these into a different light. When talking about specific cases, the one that was interesting to watch but not exactly a lot of further discussion value (for myself) would be the Berkshires UFO episode. The one that definitely got me the most was the first one, Mystery on the Rooftop for its cryptic evidence and the sheer amount of unanswered questions. The international case, The House of Terror has its value and shows the power of Netflix, diving into the international content and expanding its areas of investigation. Other than these ones, its seriously a lot of mind-boggling cases that stirs up a lot of deeper thinking of its possibilities that make Unsolved Mysteries so intriguing.

There’s so much to love about the revival of Unsolved Mysteries. Its executed well and Netflix has the international streaming platform and reach that can expand the possibilities and variety of cold case to investigate. I’m definitely looking forward to another season.