Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence Review

By Nicole Ackman
Published: February 11, 2023 (Last updated: February 14, 2023)
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Stolen Youth is a sensitive but difficult-to-watch docuseries chronicling the abuse that Larry Ray’s victims suffered in his cult that started at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010.

A shocking real story directed by Zach Heinzerling, we review Hulu’s true crime documentary series Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence.

Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence is an extremely difficult watch. The three-part documentary series, directed by Zach Heinzerling, chronicles the experiences of the people who fell victim to the machinations of Larry Ray. The cult began in 2010 at Sarah Lawrence College in New York when Ray moved into the apartment of his daughter Talia Ray and her roommates. It turned into a decade of torture and manipulation of eight college students.

Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence Review

The docuseries is split into three episodes. The first shows how the students met Ray and first fell under his sway, as he impressed them with stories of his time in the Marines and home-cooked meals. The second episode focuses on the mistreatment of the people under Ray’s manipulation, while the third explores how his victims began to recover after he was arrested.

A group of intelligent, artsy students, many of whom had been outcasts in high school and were thrilled to find a community at Sarah Lawrence College, could never have expected the effects of Ray coming to stay with them when they were sophomores in college. But within months, they were convinced that Ray had the answers to all of their problems, despite the fact that he was exacerbating many of their issues and having inappropriate sexual relations with some of them.

The third episode is the hardest to watch — even worse than the abuse depicted in the second episode — as we see two of Ray’s victims continue to defend him even after his arrest. They genuinely believe that they were poisoned, as Ray told them, at the hands of one of their former friends. The episode later catches up with Isabella and Felicia as they work through the trauma that they experienced. “I have no idea what’s true,” one of them recounts.

The documentary is largely made up of interviews with the victims, their friends who were not involved with the cult, and their parents. They often become emotional, particularly as the victims attempt to parse out what are their true memories versus those that Ray brainwashed them into believing. These interviews are supplemented with actual audio and video recordings that Ray took. At first, they are mostly comprised of collegial get-togethers, but later videos depict violence, emotional abuse, and Ray’s intense “interrogations.”

The approach to the materials, and particularly the victims, is appropriately sensitive. Director Heinzerling doesn’t sensationalize the material or seize upon the “sex cult” aspect of Ray’s abuse but allows his interviewees the space to tell their stories themselves. It’s clearly a moment of reclamation for many of them, both those who were abused by Ray and those who watched loved ones fall prey to him. After so many years of lies and hiding in the shadows, they have the opportunity to speak their truth.

Is Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence worth watching?

With Ray being sentenced to prison for 60 years last month, many people will be thinking about the events of the Sarah Lawrence cult. Many people first experienced the story through the in-depth article on The Cut that was published in April 2019.

This three-hour-long series provides a space for the victims to share their side of the story while also providing true insight into the treatment that they experienced while in the cult via videos and audio recordings. Stolen Youth might be an emotionally exhausting documentary to sit through, but it’s an important one to help the audience understand how bright young people can be sucked into a dark cult under the work of a charismatic but twisted individual.

What did you think of Hulu’s true crime documentary series Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence? Comment below.

Hulu, Streaming Service, TV Reviews
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