‘The Horror’ Review: A Screenwriter With Personal Ties to Israel Revisits the Oct. 7 Hamas Attacks

Writer and director Dan Gordon balances news-based narration with an undeniably subjective tone in the TBN documentary

Dan Gordon in "The Horror." (TBN)

It has come to feel as though the Israel-Hamas war is being fought on two fronts: In the Middle East, among countless suffering inhabitants, and in the West, through impassioned public perception.

“The Horror” is writer/director Dan Gordon’s effort to adjust the scales, by taking viewers back to the attack that sparked a battle with no end in sight.

Gordon (a former writer for the TV series “Highway to Heaven” and screenwriter for films like “Wyatt Earp” and “The Hurricane”) narrates much of this 51-minute film while standing in front of rubble, wearing a bulletproof press vest. Though he speaks with the assurance of a television host, his perspective is an undeniably subjective one: He spent his teen years in Israel and served as a member of the Israeli army. His sister was living on a kibbutz when he heard from her the morning of Oct. 7, 2023.

Dan Gordon in “The Horror.” (TBN)

He begins by sharing their increasingly fraught texts, in which she tells him about the Hamas attacks unfolding in real time. Their nerve-wracking interaction underscores her awful sense of terror. But it also works at odds with his assertive narration, which is meant to portray an objective, news-based tone. Most audience members will swiftly understand how emotionally informed his words actually are.

Calling the Hamas invasion “an attack that unbelievably made the Nazis look humane by comparison,” Gordon expresses a palpable outrage throughout. The most impactful moments don’t actually come from his own commentary, but from the copious video footage he includes: some was taken by victims, or from horrified soldiers trying to find survivors amid piles of bodies, or by Hamas itself. One particularly excruciating scene shows a kidnapped family, in which a little boy tries to make sense of his sister’s murder while his mother covers him with her body in an attempt to protect him.

Gordon also conducts several interviews with Israelis, including those who survived the deadly attack on the Nova music festival. In one, two young men standing near their tearful friend remember in distress how they reluctantly agreed to shoot her if the time ever came that she would be kidnapped — and presumably tortured or raped.

Unlike Sheryl Sandberg’s recent, and devastating, film on Oct. 7, “Screams Before Silence,” Gordon is not concerned about accusations of bias. Where the latter film stayed meticulously focused on facts, this one is scaffolded by the filmmaker’s unmistakable fury.

“This is not a war about territory,” he insists, noting all the enemies surrounding Israel’s borders. Whether or not someone agrees, and to what degree, will likely serve as a litmus test as to how they will respond to the rest of his movie.

That the attacks on Oct. 7 were a horror should not be a matter of controversy. But in situations where the political is inextricably personal, staunchly unequivocal statements of the sort Gordon makes throughout feel designed to be embraced, challenged or dismissed. His approach, therefore, is more likely to reinforce opinions than to change minds. Which opinions those will be ultimately depends not on him, but on viewers themselves.

“The Horror” premieres Thursday, May 30, on TBN. Check your local listings for showtimes.


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