Disgust at plan to turn Elisa Lam’s water tank death into horror movie

'The Bringing' was penned by screenwriting brothers Brandon and Phillip Murphy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 9:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 12:09am

A supernatural thriller supposedly based on the death of Chinese Canadian student Elisa Lam, who drowned in a hotel's water tank, is drawing a horrified reaction even before it is made.

Lam, who was found dead in the rooftop tank of a Los Angeles hotel early last year, suffered from bipolar disorder and her death was ruled accidental. But the movie, tentatively titled The Bringing, penned by screenwriting brothers Brandon and Phillip Murphy is being touted as an otherworldly horror story.

Disgusted critics of the project, which was announced on Friday, February 28, have called it a tasteless attempt to exploit Lam’s tragic death.

Lam’s Hong Kong immigrant parents, David and Yinna Lam, have lodged a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the Cecil Hotel for allegedly allowing their 21-year-old daughter to access the rooftop, which should have been locked.

Lam’s disappearance achieved notoriety after a video of her behaving strangely in a hotel elevator went viral. The video showed Lam gesticulating, conversing, and appearing to hide from someone, despite appearing alone.

The Hollywood Reporter said that the movie will be “based on true events” and follows a private investigator who uncovers the “dark supernatural history” of a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The Reporter incorrectly describes Lam’s death as a “mysterious murder” on which the project is based. It said the Murphys sold the script to Sony for US$300,000, with an extra US$700,000 payable if the film is actually produced.

Although some industry watchers applauded the young Murphy brothers for their initiative in getting a script to market so quickly, others condemned the project.

“Girl has only been dead a year and a half [sic] and people are already trying to make a profit off her. Classy. Way to break into the business, boys,” wrote one person posting on the industry site Deadline Hollywood.

Another wrote: “Is the family of the innocent victim of this tragedy getting paid? Doubtful. Calling karma police.”

Others suggested that Lam’s family could sue the producers. “They [the Murphys] don’t automatically have the right to exploit the woman who died with a fictional supernatural scary movie story and unless they make a deal with her family for rights they are liable for a lawsuit and I think they will be sued over this.”

The Murphy brothers are represented by Langley Perer of the Mosaic Media Group, a Hollywood talent agency and film producer.

A person who answered Perer’s phone on Monday confirmed that she represented Brandon and Phillip Murphy and that their script for The Bringing, based on Lam’s death, had been sold. Perer did not respond to the South China Morning Post’s request for further comment.

Lam had been missing for three weeks before a maintenance worker discovered her body last February 19 in the Cecil Hotel’s water tank, after guests complained about low water pressure. Others said the water in the hotel had a foul taste but health officials said it posed no health risk.

The University of British Columbia student had been travelling alone in California when she stopped making daily phone calls to her parents in Vancouver, prompting them to call police.

A coroner for Los Angeles County ruled that Lam’s death was "accidental … due to drowning. Other significant conditions being bipolar disorder". Investigator Fred Corral said that Lam had simply made her way to the roof, climbed into the tank and drowned.

The video released by police during the search for Lam garnered worldwide attention and was viewed millions of times.

The 2-1/2-minute clip shows Lam acting in a manner that appears alternately fearful and confused. Lam hides, goes in and out of the open lift and waves her hands about. At one stage, she appears to be talking and gesturing to a second person, perhaps outside the view of the elevator's camera.

It emerged during the investigation that Satanist serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the Nightstalker, had lived at the Cecil Hotel for several months in 1985. Ramirez died of cancer in June 2013 while on death row for 13 killings and 11 rapes.

Deadline reported that The Bringing will be produced by Matt Tolmach and Daniela Cretu. Tolmach is the producer of the latest installment of the Spider-Man franchise, due in cinemas in April.

Hong Kong's true-crime chillers

Hong Kong cinema has a history of turning reallife crime into celluloid horror. Unlike the supernatural fiction promised by The Bringing, these blood-curdling stories were all too real

Human Pork Chop (2001): This Category III effort by director Benny Chan tells the story of the 1999 “Hello Kitty murder”, in which victim Fan Man-yee was kidnapped and tortured over a small debt. She died after a month of captivity, then was cut into pieces and her skull stuffed in a Hello Kitty doll. The three triad killers were convicted of manslaughter because the exact cause of death could not be determined. They were sentenced in 2000 to life terms, with 20-year non-parole periods.

There is a Secret in My Soup (2001): This film was also based on the Hello Kitty killing and released at the same time as Human Pork Chop. Directed by Yeung Chi-gin.

The Rapist (1994): Directed by Cha Chuen-yee and starring Dickson Lee Ga-sing in the title role. Based on the crimes of Lam Kwok-wai, known as the Tuen Mun rapist. Lam was captured in 1993 and convicted of committing 10 rapes and three strangulation murders. He was only 21. Lam’s capture was as bizarre as his crimes were cruel; his final rape victim survived the attack, and Lam asked her to meet him the next night for a date at a cinema. She agreed, told police and Lam was arrested when he turned up. He is serving 11 life sentences.

The Untold Story/Human Meat Char-siu Bao (1993): This gruesome effort by director Herman Yau made a star out of Anthony Wong Chau-sang as a killer-turned-cook. His method of body disposal is given away by the alternate Chinese title. Based on a series of notorious killings in the mid-1980s by Wong Chi-hang in Hong Kong and Macau. Wong committed suicide after being arrested.

Dr Lamb (1992): Simon Yam Tat-wah plays the title role in this depiction of the life and crimes of Lam Kor-wan, the demented Hong Kong sadist known as the Jars Murderer. Lam picked up his four female victims in his taxi, then strangled and dismembered them, storing their body parts in his refrigerator. He was caught in 1982 after attempting to develop film of his activities. Lam is serving a life sentence. Dr Lamb was directed by Danny Lee and Billy Tang.

Ian Young