Netflix has made a glimpse into other cultures much more accessible to mainstream audiences. Paranormal is the first Egyptian Netflix Original series that is based on novelist Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s book series, Paranormal, that has an astounding 81 titles.
The series set in 1969, in Cairo, follows Refaat Ismail (Ahmed Amin), a haematologist who is a sceptic and a big believer in science. He is sarcastic and bad-tempered but is ultimately good at heart. He reluctantly agrees to be set up with the mild-mannered Howaida (Ayah Samaha), a school teacher, by his sister, Raeefa Ismail (Samma Ibrahim).
His world is tossed into a mess when Maggie (Razane Jammal), a fellow doctor he was romantically interested in, 15 years ago, comes to Egypt.
At the same time, he starts to see his childhood crush, Shiraz (Reem Abd El Kader), who was actually a spirit, everywhere. The paranormal incidents in Egypt also see a sudden uptick at the same time.
Refaat has to overcome his scepticism and come to terms with his past as he becomes an unwilling paranormal expert.
Ahmed Amin plays Refaat Ismail. Amin is primarily a comedian. So, for him to play such an anxious, cynical introverted yet brilliant professor, is a big leap. Usually, he manages to do the job well, maybe a bit too well. The character of Refaat in the books is supposed to be grumpy, yet ultimately, lovable. Amin’s whiny portrayal made the character unbearable to watch at times.
Ayah Samaha is excellent as Howaida. She is a gentle, modest, unassuming soul who loves her fiance, Refaat. Unfortunately, Refaat does not share her the same fondness towards her. Samaha is excellently able to portray the anguish of one-sided love in a realistic fashion.
Razane Jammal is decent as Maggie. She does well with what has been given to her. Though sometimes, her Scottish accent is irregular.
Reem Abd El Kader is excellent as Shiraz, the ten-year-old girl who is haunting the Ismail family. She is spooky in most scenes but absolutely charming in certain scenes. She easily outdoes most of the older and more experienced actors in the series.
Paranormal has quite a unique look. Its black colour palette shrouds everything in darkness and constantly maintains an eerie atmosphere. The cinematography by Ahmed Beshary and set design create the perfect tone for this series.
The narration, which is usually the weakest aspect in most films, is great here. The use of Murphy’s Laws in the narration is quite interesting and gives us a glimpse into who Refaat is as a person as well as some seriously dry humour.
The last episode, in particular, is very well done. It is gut-wrenching and hits all the right emotional notes and makes the faults in the earlier episodes easier to digest.
The biggest gripe in the show is the unnecessary love triangle between Refaat, Maggie and Howaida. The relationship between Maggie and Refaat does not make any sense, as a result, their scenes and chemistry fall flat.
Maggie, an accomplished academic in her own right, is reduced to a mere object that Refaat has to protect and admire. The fact that she had been recently divorced is barely referenced in the series and is an underutilised factor that could have been used to give Maggie’s character some much-needed depth.
The series follows a ‘monster of the week’ approach to its individual episodes which doesn’t really work in a six-episode long series. As a result, the pacing is off at times.
Most, if not all, paranormal entities in the show are made from visual effects. The visual effects are, simply put, terrible. They ruin the suspension of disbelief and the tone set by the look of the series.
Paranormal also has its fair share of pseudo scares. The actual jump scares are quite standard too. Therefore the show isn’t scary as much as it is spooky.
Paranormal is a standard horror thriller which doesn’t offer anything brand new to the genre. But, it is well made and offers a peek into the Egyptian cinema and their culture.
If you have time to kill, It has enough scares, twists and turns to make it at least a one time watch.