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Tribeca 2023 Review: The Fourth Wall

Our first review from the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival is for the documentary titled "The Fourth Wall" a inside look of the Sullivanians, New York’s secretive “psychotherapy sex cult,” which was hidden in plain sight on Manhattan's Upper West Side in the 1970s and ’80s, thriving underground from its utopian heyday to its dramatic collapse in 1991. Keith Newton (son of the Sullivanian leaders) and Luke Meyer (filmmaker of Breaking A Monster) takes the audience on a journey of trauma, guilt and healing for the remaining members who are alive. We realize that a subject like this have to be a episodic series because of the complexity of the leaders and reluctance of some members. The first episode that we screened is the beginning of how the cult started or should say develop. The children of the leader, Saul Newton spend a good portion of the episode trying to figure out who their father was before becoming a therapist. The stories and images of a young Saul was shocking when you think of what he became years later. The children try to convince other people to speak on camera they get insulted yet understanding because of the mental abuse they sustained while in the group. For a hour you get a sense of why things went downhill for the Sullivanians because of Saul being defensive and aggressive at the same time. Yet also get a idea that some members were at fault because their background growing up gave them issues that they could not handle even in the cult and that causes conflict.

There are several scenes where you can feel the uncomfortably between Saul's kids and some of the members. That was telling because even though the film seems to be a relaxed atmosphere you can tell people did not want to discuss what they went through. Some of the flashbacks of what seem to be innocence is documented as training for the unthinkable. The Fourth Wall is not your typical cult narrative, it's haunting, compelling and even calming. Kevin Newton did what he could by exposing his father's faults and transgressions for the world to see over the obstacles that his parents created. Looking forward to seeing the rest of this series.


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