Arts, Features

REVIEW: Egypt’s ‘Paranormal’ connects horror fans near and far

Netflix’s highly-anticipated supernatural Arabic drama “Paranormal,” directed by Amr Salama, was released Thursday.

Netflix released its first Egyptian original series on Thursday titled “Paranormal.” ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The six-episode series is set in 1960s Egypt and is based on a bestselling Arabic horror book series of the same name by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik. The show is in Arabic, but is available in an English voiceover.

Each scene shows beautiful cinematography right from the start. The first episode opens
with a chilling game of hide and seek, setting the tone for the eerie show. The next scene jumps years into the future to the adult life of Refaat Ismail, played by Ahmed Amin.

Ismail, an Egyptian doctor and professor, has been plagued by the paranormal his whole life, but refuses to admit it to himself. The character’s unbelieving convictions begin to prove no match to the constant paranormal occurrences he faces throughout the show.

Each of the six episodes is a different storyline in Ismail’s paranormal-ridden life. Stories include a haunted house, a pharaoh’s curse, mythical creatures and hypnosis — all classic paranormal themes made unique with an Egyptian doctor’s realist perspective. Twinges of dry comedic relief throughout hold the paranormal themes together.

Every frame is beautifully haunting, making the show seem almost like an Egyptian version of a season of “American Horror Story.” As eerie and creepy as it is gorgeously interesting, “Paranormal” keeps viewers intrigued and closely watching every scene.

With only six, 50-minute episodes, the riveting story progresses incredibly fast. Some of the most striking scenes include a young Ismail running frantically through a haunted house to find the girl he thinks he loves and a team of surgeons staring down at a decomposing mummy laying on an operating table.

Storyline aside, it is impossible not to appreciate the series for its stunning visuals.

The show also offers a peek into Egyptian culture, which is of value both to those who can relate to the show’s language and depictions, and to American viewers who might enjoy watching something different.

For example, Ishmail is engaged to his much-younger cousin, but this was not culturally uncommon in Egypt, especially in the 1960s, when the show takes place. References to Egyptian horror, mythology and history — such as those in the episode “The Myth of the Curse of the Pharaoh” — further this intrigue into the country’s culture.

Ismail’s character is distinctly specific, and the story would not progress the same way without his unique characterization as the focus. He is frigid and stiff in the most innocent way.

Blank-faced, cigarette smoking Ismail is the perfect unsuspecting, unconvinced focus for paranormal activity. Seeing his personal life intertwined with the paranormal creates a juxtaposition of the ordinary and the fantastical.

Even deep into the series, each episode retained the same unpredictability. The tension of the scares was never too stressful, but just surprising enough to maintain an engaging, natural storyline.

However, the episodes, which are separate plots, do feel disconnected from one another, as if the characters have forgotten what happened to them since the last time. Each new episode has no connection to or mention of the previous.

The horror aspect is tasteful, and the storyline is strong. Ironic scenes build enjoyable tension and hold the viewer’s interest. This isn’t one of those boring horror shows whose every move is predictable.

“Paranormal” is unique but pleasantly familiar. Anyone with the slightest interest in scary things, and those open to a fascinatingly different story with beautiful cinematography, should binge this show.

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