The ‘Paranormal’ Experience: Season One Review of Netflix’s First Egyptian Original Series

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Official poster of Netflix show ‘Paranormal’

*Spoiler Alert: This article may contain descriptive elements, details and spoilers regarding the first season of Paranormal.

“Refaat’s first law after amendment, the ‘paranormal’ surely exists,” concludes Dr. Refaat Ismail as season one of Paranormal intriguingly came to an end. After months of anticipation for Egypt’s first Netflix original series, Ma Waraa el Tabiaa (Paranormal) – based on the well known book series of the same name by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik – finally made its debut on November fifth. 

It seemed as though the entire population of Egypt was watching the show – directed by Amr Salama and Majid Al Ansari –  all at the same time, as it quickly made its way up the ranks to becoming the number one most watched show in the ‘Top Ten in Egypt Today’ list. In fact, Paranormal is still ranked as number one in Egypt up until today and is even ranked amongst the Top Ten most watched shows in several countries across the world. 

Made up of six 45-55 minute episodes, Paranormal proved to live up to expectations – perhaps with just a few minor concerns here and there – however the overall outcome is exciting, wonderfully made, leaving audiences wanting more and leaving Egyptian audiences with something to be proud of. 

The First Half of Season One

The first episode of Paranormal’s first season gave audiences an impressive introduction to the series. Each and every character stood out, with their own specific quirks and character attributes, all of which were wonderfully enhanced through the costume choice and surrounding scenery and props. 

While the first episode helped paint a picture of what to expect, as well familiarize audiences with the show’s main characters – including Paranormal’s protagonist Dr. Refaat Ismail who was perfectly portrayed by actor Ahmed Amin – it was perhaps the way in which the ‘Paranormal’ world was constructed that was exceedingly appealing in the the first episode.

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.

Indeed, the set design and props that helped build the ‘Paranormal’ world of Dr. Refaat Ismail and his family, and transported us back through time, paved the way for the series of adventures that were to come. This is precisely why the second and third episodes of the season seemed to slightly dial down the initial episode’s intrigue. 

While the second and third episode’s events were interesting and important to the overall story, the CGI elements (namely the mummy and gorilla) seemed to make the series lose some of its more eery ‘horror-type’ aspects. Instead, these two episodes in specific resulted in audiences telling each other the show isn’t ‘scary’ or ‘spooky’ but still exciting and worth watching. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it did leave some other people wanting those ‘horror’ elements that they were anticipating more of – the kind that may leave them up at night. 

The Second Half of Season One

That being said however, the fourth episode and onwards did not disappoint when it comes to the story and the horror. In fact, the second half of season one perhaps made the show and even paved the way for Paranormal’s second season. 

What was particularly noteworthy about the fourth episode for example, ‘The Myth of the Naiad’, was the fact that it revolves around a classic childhood horror story that is widely known and circulated in Egypt – El Nadaha (The Naiad, or woman who calls). The fact that this childhood myth was brought to life through Paranormal was wonderful to see and the backstory was both shocking and eerily satisfying to watch unfold. In addition to this, the fact that the backstory of El Nadaha brought about an all too real issue that is still currently present in society today adds to the horror all the more.

In episode four, we find out that the famous Nadaha (the ghost of a woman who calls out to men and lures them to their death) passed away as a result of an honor killing; the young woman’s father executed her after finding out that she was raped. While this is all part of the story and builds reasoning behind the events that unfold on screen, it helps highlight the very real issue of honor killings that still take place today. Similarly, in episode six we also watch the issues that unfold from a young girl who has a child out of wedlock (the child being Shiraz, played by Reem Abdel Kader). Audiences come to find out about Shiraz’s very human and tragic backstory, being a helpless child who gets locked away in secret as a result of the shame that would accompany her family’s name had society found out about her mother having her out of wedlock. This again, paints an all too real image of issues that still currently exist to this day within Egyptian society. 

Still image from Paranormal Season One. Image courtesy of Netflix.

Generally speaking, the stories to follow within the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes were satisfyingly more spooky and definitely gave horror-seekers what they were looking for. In addition to the show’s story and the events that played out, audiences also began to develop an emotional attachment to Paranormal’s characters. This comes in large part as a result of the show’s on-point casting choices; other than Raeefa’s (played by Samma Ibrahim) relatable tough love persona and Reda’s (played by Rushdi al Shami) sacrificial acts of love, Dr. Refaat Ismail’s character development and the way in which every episode seemed to peel away and reveal a new layer to the protagonist was the most endearing part of season one’s journey. 

Audiences were able to effortlessly sympathize with everything Dr. Refaat Ismail was going through, thanks to Amin’s powerful and convincing performance that seemed to humanize this otherwise highly stylized fictional character. 

The Overall Verdict

A combination of meticulous set design, well-shot compositions of scenes, great casting choices and an intriguing storyline ultimately make up a great ‘Paranormal’ experience when it comes to the show’s first season. The diverse casting in particular is something worth noting, as well as the fact that the show’s female leads all seemed to carry themselves with confidence and fearlessness, rather than being portrayed as the typical ‘damsel in distress’. 

Although the first season may not have been perfect when it comes to a a few aspects, it has definitely built a strong base for seasons to follow, as well as a strong and devoted fan base eager to see more. Being a first of its kind for Egyptian television, it has left both audiences and industry professionals alike hopeful to what’s in store for the future of Egyptian film and television.