Hulu’s Stolen Youth concludes the chilling saga of the Sarah Lawrence sex cult

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I admit when I found out that Hulu was releasing the docuseries Stolen Youth: Inside The Cult at Sarah Lawrence, I hesitated to get upset about it. What new revelations could a three-part true-crime documentary bring us that wasn’t fleshed out in the reveal? 2019 The cut Investigation, the myriad parts this article has spawned, and a court sentence of 60 years in prison for cult leader and con artist Larry Ray? I was certain that this series would reinforce the eroding facade of the true crime genre and once again reveal that these retellings are just shock and horror fodder, broken up into episodic format for our mindless consumption. But while true crime is terribly formulaic at this point, I found Stolen Youth possessing a real twist: an ending that provided a way forward for the victims of Ray’s grotesque and manipulative crimes.

Within the first five minutes of the first episode, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” transports the viewer straight to 2009, while aerial and archival footage of Sarah Lawrence College are shown on-screen. As someone just a year older than Ray’s victim and also attending a small liberal arts college, I was transported back to those early and light-hearted days of college where you really felt “young, wild, and free.” The following three hours underscore the legitimacy of the title. Not just Larry commit unthinkable abuse of their victims— many of whom participated in the series — but the abomination of stealing the optimistic and eager young adult years from these bright students was particularly gruesome.

The first episode explains how the charismatic Larry infiltrated his daughter Talia Ray’s circle of friends at Sarah Lawrence. What started as a few nights on the couch became a ubiquitous, fatherly figure in the campus housing, cooking steaks for the friends group, keeping the kitchen clean and offering advice to struggling youth. Raven Juarez, one of the students who never fell victim to Ray’s manipulation and remained suspicious, explains the story clearly: “At first everyone thought he was weird. And then, one by one, he’d get them alone, have these conversations, and suddenly they’re like this: Oh, he’s not that bad To Actually he’s pretty great. Actually, he saves my life. Actually, he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Actually, I will never not listen to him. Actually, fuck you, I will never listen to you if you talk bad about him. And it happened steeply. And it shocked me,” she explains.

Eventually, Larry persuades his daughter Talia, her friends Isabella, Daniel and Claudia, and her boyfriend Santos to move into his New York City apartment. After some time, Santos’ two sisters, Yalitzia and Felicia, also move in. There, his behavior becomes aggressive and vicious: he erodes any confidence in these students and convinces them that they conspired against him by attempting to poison and murder him.

In what eventually contributed to his own downfall, Larry recorded hours of video and audio of his victims confessing to their conspiracy and not real crimes. Director Zach Heinzerling get access to the disturbing footage of Larry attempting to prove his own innocence and to the footage released after Larry’s trial in 2022.

The third episode Larrylanddistinguishes Stolen Youth from other deep dives of true crime. It follows Isabella and Felicia, the last two escapees from the sex cult, who continue to support Larry afterwards The cut Article published and he is arrested. In the earlier episodes, we had seen Felicia’s brutal descent into insanity at Ray’s hands: After a brief courtship on the bi-coast, Larry convinced Felicia, who at the time was living in Los Angeles and was completing her residency in forensic psychiatry, that people were going for it were kill her because of her association with him. “Little by little, he took over my thoughts,” says Felicia. “I don’t even know how he did it. He made me feel like people really were after me, people came to hurt me, and people had hurt me in my past.” She then moved to New York City and became emotional with Ray for the next 10 years, sexually and physically tortured. Incoherent and often unable to stand up straight or look anyone in the eye, Felicia resembles a shell of a human.

There was certainly a point where I squirmed when the camera focused on her. “I consider him my husband. He is my honey bunny. That’s what we call ourselves. I’m his honey bunny lady and he’s my honey bunny man,” Felicia tells the crew when asking if she and Larry are married. “Leave that sick woman alone!” I wanted to scream. But the final episode patiently follows her steady attempt, with the help of therapy and her legal team, to rebuild her identity outside of Larry’s psychically abusive grip. Over the course of this hour, we see her not only moving into her own apartment, but reconnecting with her troubled, ailing parents and estranged siblings, who are also coming to terms with the damage Larry caused them. It’s not a perfectly clean ending with a nice loop around it, and I’m hesitant to call it simply a “happy ending” — but it’s certainly happier than the genre’s tendency to end on a cliffhanger or an ominous warning.

in a (n interview with diversityDirector Heinzerling explains his decision not to record his interviews with Larry. “I feel like he’s in such a delusional state of denial that denial is his reality,” says Heinzerling. “I don’t know if anything he says gives us any insight into how that happened or who he is as a person because it’s all lies.”

Ultimately, this decision to exclude Larry and instead focus on Felicia’s resurrection gives the series much more credibility, as anyone familiar with true crime fiction knows why Larry did what he did. He is an abusive sycophant who has driven vulnerable people into his sphere of influence. What is far more intriguing, and often far less explored, is the tenacity of the victims, their ability to break the psychological chains they find themselves in. You can turn this series off if you really feel like these people have reclaimed part of their lives from this evil man and that alone makes it worth watching. Hulu’s Stolen Youth concludes the chilling saga of the Sarah Lawrence sex cult

Adam Bradshaw

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