It’s a bit clunky and certainly nothing new, but Paranormal is nonetheless a fun genre-blending period piece well worth a binge.
This review of Paranormal (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
Every so often, Netflix releases the first of something — usually the first original film or series from a nation which isn’t typically known for its international media output. There’s typically some discussion about such things, often a debate around whether it truly is the first of its kind or if that’s just marketing spiel, and so on, and so forth, until the thing comes out, and people watch it (or not) and then move on. Thus, I have no idea if Paranormal is really the first Egyptian Original Series, but it’s certainly the first I’ve seen. If its quality is a relative indicator of what we can expect out of Egypt in the future, then that’s mostly fine by me.
This isn’t to say that Paranormal is a perfect show by any means. It’s rife with cliche in its characters and its spooks, it’s a little bit overstuffed, and it relies much too heavily on a clumsy narration gimmick that doesn’t just bookend its six chapters but is utilized all throughout them, sometimes to the extent that it isn’t always clear when the show’s protagonist, Dr. Refaat Ismail (Ahmed Amin), is speaking aloud to a character or internally for the benefit of the audience. Despite all this, though, I had a lot of fun with its monster-of-the-week setup, as well as the overarching narrative, the blend of genres and tones, and some of the more culturally-specific details that help to keep the setting and story feel ever-so-slightly distinct, despite the familiarity of its hauntings and other paranormal phenomena.
Refaat is a skeptic, a rationalist who vehemently denies the existence of anything even vaguely supernatural, despite him and his family having experienced a haunting as children and him having been followed around by its specter presumably ever since. At the start of the season, Refaat’s old friend and flame Maggie (Razane Jammal), a Scottish academic, arrives in Egypt on a university grant, just as Refaat is due to marry his cousin, Huwaida (Aya Samaha), a pretty but naive schoolteacher. These characters, along with other members of Refaat’s family and circle including his sister Raeefa (Samma Ibrahim), older brother Reda (Rushdi Al Shami), and young Taha (Adam Wahdan), all become embroiled in a number of seemingly supernatural mysteries, with Refaat cast as the reluctant paranormal investigator.
This setup could probably support more than the six hour-ish episodes that comprise Season 1, but the show’s brevity makes it binge-able, and the slightly new focus of each installment helps with the immediate pacing while the overarching plot is developed more gradually. It’s a nice balance and allows Paranormal to dip in and out of a range of different horror tropes and trappings while also telling a pretty consistent character-driven story. It isn’t perfect, and it arrives perhaps a week later than its ideal Halloween release window, but there’s still a fun and intriguing show here, one that would probably benefit from renewal.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.