Arts & Entertainment

The unexplainable crimes of the Cecil Hotel

Shows like Netflix’s “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” have captivated our attention and created an independent genre: true unexplainable crime.

In this day and age, true crime shows have drawn a huge audience across demographics and age groups. There is a sort of morbid curiosity in us as humans that pulls us toward these documentaries with various films and series, such as “The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

However, Netflix’s “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” has a different feeling to it. Going for the genre of true crime, it has characteristics that give it a different, eerie presence. First, there is the history of the hotel itself. The Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles, California was a hotel that offered cheap rates on a daily and weekly basis. This made the hotel appealing to people with a lower income or homeless communities as an option to be used as long term or permanent housing. 

Another appeal that the hotel provided was housing criminals. Serial killers, like the night stalker, stayed at this hotel. With that said, it is pretty safe to say there was a fair share of murders and other causes of death that plagued the hotel. From overdoses to suicides, it darkened and tarnished the name of Hotel Cecil. 

The other event that veers this docuseries from being a strictly “true crime” show is the well known disappearance of Elisa Lam. “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” is a four chapter/episode series covering this woman’s disappearance. Lam traveled from her home in Canada to Los Angeles, on her own, and eventually wound up at the Hotel Cecil. Her mysterious disappearance and death that are investigated throughout the series gives the viewers a sense that something more happened. 

After watching it myself, I have my own ideas about everything that happened. Different people who both watched the show and were aware of the incident at the time in 2013, formed their own opinions of what happened and some even started their own investigations. Some say that Lam was having a mental episode that resulted in her death, others say she couldn’t have done this on her own. 

Today, there are even the few that say it was the hotel’s negative energy, and maybe even some of its past residents that had died there. Regardless of what actually happened, it’s definitely one of those documentaries that will leave you thinking for a while after watching it. 

Formatted the way most documentaries are, the series features multiple interviews with the people who were present during the time of the incident in 2013 and pairs them with eerie yet beautiful shots of the hotel. And rated for mature audiences, there were some images containing drugs and minor gore. I felt like the creators did a thorough job with the interviews as well as explaining the story. The holes left unanswered seemed almost intentional for viewers to think on. 

Currently, the hotel is closed down. There are a few tenants who still reside there and call it their permanent home, but the hotel status is no longer active. However, people are still wildly interested in the story of The Cecil and its modernized counterpart, Stay on Main. One man, Ryan Murphy, based the fifth season of his well known horror show, “American Horror Story,” on the hotel. 

With all of the events that occurred in the hotel, both AHS season five and this docuseries on Netflix feel like they approach the events the same way, as if they’re creating their own genre of true supernatural crime. 

By definition, true crime is the genre of pieces that are based on or inspired by an event that really happened at some point in history. It is safe to say that “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” strays from true crime into this unexplainable, almost supernatural, area.