Stolen Youth review: Hulu’s Sarah Lawrence cult documentary is tough to watch

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“Sarah Lawrence sex cult” screamed the headlines when Larry Ray — the sinister con artist who abused a group of his daughter’s friends for over a decade — was sentenced to 60 years in prison last month. Stolen Youth, the new Hulu documentary about the young adults Ray tormented, proves how woefully reductive that sensationalistic phrase really is. The three-part series from director Zach Heinzerling (McCartney 3, 2, 1) uses Ray’s own recordings and firsthand accounts from his survivors to explore, often in agonizing detail, the devastating emotional damage he left behind.

Thirteen years ago, Larry Ray — newly released from prison after a child custody dispute — came to crash with his daughter, Talia, in her dorm at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He regaled Talia’s roommates with exciting (though often exaggerated) stories of his life in the military and high stakes work as a government agent. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” admits Santos Rosario, Talia’s boyfriend at the time.

Over the next few months, he became a father figure and mentor to the sophomores; they were sensitive young adults trying to find their way into adulthood, and Larry Ray was more than happy to draw them a map. Eventually, he convinced several of the students — including Daniel Levin, Isabella Pollack, Santos and eventually his sisters, Felicia and Yalitza Rosario — to move into his Upper East Side sublet. That’s when the cult tactics began in earnest: Love bombing, isolation, food and sleep deprivation, coerced confessions, physical punishment, and so on.

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