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‘Escaping Twin Flames Universe’ shines a dark light on a site for those seeking soulmates

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Is Twin Flames this year’s Fyre Festival or NXIVM cult in terms of media coverage and dueling docuseries? It sure feels that way, with competing (or really, complementary) streaming projects kicking off with Amazon’s “Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe,” to be followed in November by Netflix’s more economical “Escaping Twin Flames.”

Each project features former members discussing their decision to divorce themselves from what they refer to as a cult, which promised that its online sessions would enable those seeking love to find their “twin flame,” only to take a darker turn over time.

Whether these productions light viewers’ fire remains to be seen, but there has been a considerable appetite for such fare chronicling the social-media-intermediated quest for love and its sometimes-unintended consequences, including Netflix’s “The Tinder Swindler” and Showtime’s “Love Fraud.” A scripted version of the story might be in the offing as well, with a limited series in development at Hulu according to the website Deadline. (The team behind the Netflix docuseries produced one of the NXIVM projects.)

Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, who operate Twin Flames, oversee a program that represents a strange mix of dating site, self-help and spiritualism, promising to pair clients with a soulmate “created for you by God,” as Jeff puts it in their videos, telling those paying for the classes, “We guarantee harmonious union with your true twin flame.”

After a slow start, “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” gets to the meat of allegations against the couple, who are shown during Zoom sessions prodding those seeking their guidance not to take “No” for an answer if their soulmate rejects them, which former members say amounted to encouraging stalking.

“It’s not weird. It’s not obsessive,” Jeff is shown saying, adding, “You cannot be happy without your twin flame.”

Director Marina Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”) draws heavily on the work of journalist Alice Hines, who wrote a Vanity Fair expose that included interviewing Jeff and Shaleia in their Michigan home, where they proudly display luxury cars they own as a byproduct of their success. (The pair didn’t respond to the producers’ requests for comment but have posted statements denying that Twin Flames is a cult.)

“Escaping Twin Flames Universe” also delves into Jeff and Shaleia allegedly pressuring members to alter their gender identities, citing their “divine natures” as they urge some to transition, with members saying that those who resisted faced punitive actions.

“Spirituality’s a great business because you don’t need any credentials,” Hines says.

On a broader level, these assorted documentaries speak to a sense of disconnectedness and longing for answers pursued via social media and the Internet, the irony being that all the time spent holed up in such forums has surely contributed to the lack of personal contact and loneliness people hope to address.

Levels of desperation vary, but “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” makes a compelling case that few impulses are as ripe to be preyed upon as the intoxicating promise of finding true love – a sales pitch that possesses the same powerful pull as a moth to the flame.

“Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe” premieres October 6 on Amazon’s Prime Video.

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