It’s not just dramatisations of crimes that sell. Possibly one of the most popular aspects of this genre are the documentaries. Here we come to Netflix’s The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. Once a grand location, over the decades, the Cecil Hotel has become one of the many blots on the Los Angeles cityscape. In 2013, a young woman named Elisa Lam went missing. Her last known location was the Cecil Hotel. This documentary details the mystery around her disappearance, with employees from the hotel and members of law enforcement providing interviews on the subject, as well as going into the history of the hotel and the darker side of the “city of angels”.
But what is it exactly about these shows and films that makes them so popular? Why are so many people drawn to stories about the worst side of humanity?
There seem to be a few reasons. Psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD, writing online for the Cleveland Clinic in the US, claims that one of the chief reasons is curiosity. “It’s human nature to be inquisitive. True crime appeals to us because we get a glimpse into the mind of a real person who has committed a heinous act.”
But it goes a bit further than that, with many citing the evolutionary nature of this inquisitiveness. To watch these stories gives us an opportunity to discover how these criminals may behave, what patterns to look out for, and how to protect ourselves against them. As reported online in Science Focus, a 2010 study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that women especially seemed to be interested in true crime that gives insight into the motives of the criminals and shows how potential victims managed to escape.
These reasons make perfect sense and offer a rebuttal if you are ever criticised for having a fascination with true crime. But it’s difficult to ignore one of the biggest drawcards – they often make darn good stories.
So where should you be going to satiate your curiosity? You might have noticed Netflix has been mentioned several times.
Netflix picked up on people’s interest in this genre early on, and almost has a monopoly on it. Simply typing “true crime” into its search bar brings up a myriad of shows and films, ranging from dramatisations of events, to documentaries which thoroughly dissect every aspect of the criminals and their crimes for the audience. But there are other, non-Netflix options (see panel).
Nat Dolan is an Auckland actor and movie enthusiast