True Crime Documentary Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence Review, Gaslighting Larry Ray

I was the last one to watch Paradise Lost but among the first to see Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence. How can one woman have an entire cult inside of her? Well, Sarah Lawrence is a college, not a girl.

This three-part docuseries tells the story about how Larry Ray moves into his daughter Talia’s college home shared by about a dozen others. Only college kids can live so tightly packed in one home and think of it as a wonderful experience. I found it to be one of the most terrifying parts of this documentary. No privacy? Someone you know around every corner? Yuck.

The students are quickly drawn to Ray who becomes the father of the house. He is intelligent, willing to listen, and the most extreme gaslighter I’ve ever seen on film. He makes David Koresh look weak.

Several of the students eventually move out and into New York City with Larry into a small apartment we later learn he doesn’t even own. Everything Larry says is a lie and yet these kids buy in one-hundred percent all of the time. He tells them they broke something, they broke it! He says they’re poisoning each other, they point the finger!

Larry is cruel, manipulative, and one of the most frightening human beings in a documentary without a body count.

What was good about Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence

Let’s skip right to the last episode because that was what made this a very good one. Part one is set up of what life was like on campus, talking with several of the roommates and members of the soon-to-be cult. Part two was about their life in New York and what came after. In part three, we finally hear from the two women Larry has under his thumb even after his arrest.

The raw footage taken by Larry and members of his cult, let’s call it that, show exactly how mean he could be. And yet the documentarians are still able to sit beside two women he took advantage of in every way possible and hear them defend Larry. One was weeks away from becoming a doctor. We see her become frail on camera, crying in his arms over false accusations.

Stolen Youth’s best aspects comes from this footage Larry unwisely captured. It’s evidence against him. The interviews with the students who skipped joining the cult don’t come close to the time when he grabbed the tongue of one of his acolytes with a wrench or something and threatens him. It’s sickening. Being able to see it is far better than the way it could ever be described.

What could have made Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence better

Each part of this documentary got better. However, couldn’t we have condensed the first two parts? This was actually a very slow beginning. Sometimes true crime documentaries jump right into the action. I left it when we have that overhead shot of a home while the phone call to the police. Dive right in. This one took close to the full first episode before I thought it would be any good.

There were several times I was getting confused about who was who simply because college kids cannot resist inviting everyone to live with them. It’s like when you meet a person in real life. You don’t actually pay attention to what their name is until you encounter them for a second time.

Although the background was needed, an entire documentary focused on the two girls who stand by Larry’s side would’ve been extreme enough. When we finally see them on camera, it’s a moment where you know things are going to get weird. They deny, they laugh, and we see the psychological impact one man can have on impressionable young people. Larry is the destroying of lives.

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

You get a thumb up from me. The most intriguing parts happen in the third episode with a few good ones in the middle, too. Get through the first episode which provides more context to the story and you’ll be thankful. Most cults that begin on a college campus have to do with far less sinister shared thoughts. The college itself is usually the cult. This story is the extreme.

Overall Score: 7 out of 10

Saved by its final act, Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence college is a different kind of true crime documentary. When filmmakers decide to cover a story, it’s the weirdness and unbelievability that will attract them. This story has both.

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