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Netflix’s First Original Egyptian Series Transports You into the ‘Paranormal’ World: Review

November 5, 2020
From left to right: Ayah Samaha as Howaida Abdulmoniem, Ahmed Amin as Dr. Refaat Ismail and Razane Jammal as Maggie Mckillop. Image courtesy of Netflix.

From the branded box of Nefertiti cigarettes to the Gomhoreya newspaper, hotel and surrounding street signage and more, these minute details that often go unnoticed add a certain level of authenticity to Netflix’s first original Egyptian Series ‘Paranormal’. 

Based on the popular horror book series by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik which was first released in the early 1990s, Paranormal revolves around the everyday life of a protagonist by the name of Dr. Refaat Ismail (played by Ahmed Amin) who has always brushed off anything seemingly paranormal and bases all things on science. 

Amin, an actor more commonly known to take on comedic roles, delivers an endearing performance as the rather neurotic yet subdued Dr. Refaat Ismail. Narrating events and thoughts from his past and present throughout the show, the actor manages to add a layer of humorous relatability to the doctor (albeit a rather dark sort of humor) – who seems to be a strange character who prefers to keep to himself; so much so in fact, that he seems to be perfectly suited for the role. 

“I was slightly worried when Amr Salama (the show’s director) contacted me about the role,” admits Amin to Egyptian Streets, “because it is indeed quite far from what I normally do, but the truth is I see myself as an actor and there’s no such thing as a comedic actor or a horror actor or an action actor – an actor is an actor.”

From left to right: Ayah Samaha as Howaida Abdulmoniem, Ahmed Amin as Dr. Refaat Ismail and Razane Jammal as Maggie Mckillop. Image courtesy of Netflix.

He goes on to say that he understands why people may be doubtful about his appointment to this particular role, yet he hopes to pleasantly surprise audiences with his portrayal of Dr. Refaat Ismail – a role for which he spent months preparing.

As the first episode of the show transports audiences back and forth between 1940s Egypt and 1960s Egypt, we get to experience a certain level or production that facilitates getting lost into the story of Ismail’s childhood and the events that unfolded and flooded into his present. 

“Being the first original Egyptian Netflix show means many things and first and foremost, the production process itself was greatly different to what we were used to,” explains Paranormal Producer Mohamed Hefzy, “we were able to work on the show with resources that weren’t previously available to us as producers in Egypt.”

Razane Jammal as Maggie Mckillop. Image courtesy of Netflix.

As such, one will notice the amazing ways in which these ‘Paranormal’ worlds were intricately built, complimenting the story audiences are watching and giving leeway for each and every character to stand out in their own individual right. 

The diversity in the show’s set of characters is also worth noting, from the children who want nothing more than to enjoy a good game of hide and seek to Ismail’s tight-knit traditional Egyptian family and even his long-lost university colleague Maggie, who somehow makes her way back into his life: the cast remarkably comes together with a seamless chemistry that seems almost too real for the screen.

It is perhaps Tawfik’s well-written story itself however, that seems to elevate the show even further and places it up there in the ranks of Netflix binge-ability. The way in which the story is told and the events that take place, marry each other in a way that makes the show seem nostalgic for Egyptian audiences and refreshingly intriguing for international audiences as well. 

The show’s element of horror is also translated rather tastefully thanks to the young director’s (Amr Salama) keenness to deliver a product that would do justice to the books he grew up reading and loving. Perhaps it was also the show’s almost tag-team-like partnership between two directors (Salama and Majid Alansari – a model of work that is quite foreign to Egyptian shows) that added a layer of freshness to the way the story is told. 

Ayah Samaha as Howaida Abdulmoniem. Image courtesy of Netflix.

“If a million people read a book, there would be a million different perspectives to that book,” says Salama, “so it would be difficult to try to capture each individual person’s idea of what they had envisioned the book to be in their heads… that is why, at the end of the day, I have to go back to my own idea of what the books made me envision and how they made me feel.”

He goes on to say that what he is presenting is how he interprets the books as an artist, creator and director. “Much like any book adaptation, there will be those who like it and those who don’t… ultimately, I just wanted to be as truthful as possible to my vision of the story,” Salama tells Egyptian Streets.

Overall, each and every element of the show weaves together a successful first for Egypt and Netflix, creating a final product worth being proud of. The eerie ending of Paranormal’s first episode, wonderfully shot and set against a color palette that adds to the spooky atmosphere of Ismail’s room, is one that will surely leave audiences wanting more of where that came from. 

Paranormal is now streaming on Netflix. The show is in Arabic but English subtitles and dubbing are available.

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