Paranormal - Review

November 28, 2020


 

For the past few years, I have avoided watching and reviewing horror genre films and series due to a traumatizing jump scare that left me literally breathless. However, all it took for me to overcome that fear is the release of the long-awaited Netflix’s first original Egyptian series, Paranormal. 


Paranormal is based on the brilliant and best-selling work of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, and it follows the jinxed life of Dr. Refaat Ismail in the 1960s. The supernatural series delivers on every sci-fi trope I could ever hope for, and more. There’s nothing overly new or original in the story itself, but the storytelling and world-building are what will keep you watching.

 I confess to being new to one of the series’ filmmakers Majid Al Ansari, a mistake that I will immediately work on rectifying given how much I loved Paranormal. However, I’m already a huge fan of Amr Salama’s films. So I expected nothing but greatness. From family classics like ‘Sone'a Fee Misr’, Made in Egypt, and La Moakhza ‘Excuse My French’ to his more risky ones like ‘Sheikh Jackson’ and ‘Asma’. I knew that Salama wouldn’t disappoint.

 So let’s start with what I loved the most.

 -The Screenplay. I loved how witty it is, especially the narration. The conversations flow seamlessly, there was hardly any word, let alone a sentence that didn’t feel essential. The humor in action scenes didn’t feel forced or meaningless, even the jokes played a huge part in building Dr. Ismail’s character. There’s a rawness in the script that makes it so relatable, which is a feat considering it’s set in the 60s.

 -The cinematography. To make the world-building that the screenplay crafted believable, you need a good cinematographer. For a period show, it is essential for me not just to see old tech and cars, I want to feel it too. Ahmed Bashary does an incredible job in framing and coloring scenes that are so immersive that I felt every step and breath taken on the screen. From the desert to caves to haunted mansions. Every frame told a story, and if you pay enough attention, you’ll see clues for the big reveal all over the place.

 -The Acting. Despite being a fan of Egyptian tv and films, the cast was not a familiar one. Something that worked for this show. The narration aspect of the screenplay that I loved so much wouldn’t have been half as brilliant if Ahmed Amin wasn’t the one doing it. Amin’s performance was easily the highlight of the show. He made me so invested in his character, a doctor in his thirtieth, that I have no connection with in real life whatsoever. He gives every line the right amount of wit and brilliance, and when it’s needed, the despair he brings to the screen almost had me tearing up. Aside from Razane Jammal’s character Maggie, I had no problem with the rest of the performances. I felt like Jammal’s character was two dimensional and centered around Ismail that it didn’t shine. However, there were other characters with the same description who had significantly less screen-time than Jammal, and yet they managed to shine and pull it off.

 - The score. There’s only a handful of scores that get stuck in my mind for more than two weeks after listening to them, and Khaled Al Kammar’s work is one of them. Just like Hildur Guðnadóttir’s piercing and unforgettable Joker score, Al Kammar’s take a similar route. It elevated every scene and the entire series to a whole new level of greatness.


 Now on to the things I didn’t like, which were a few Nit-picky ones.

 -The editing. It wasn’t that bad, for most of the episodes it worked. But if I’m being fussy here I can not forgive some of the choices made in the most plot-driven episodes. Without spoiling too much, I felt that for the mystery to be more hidden and unexpected, some creative choices were taken that didn’t work out.

 -Cliches. I wasn’t looking for originality when I started watching this, but I think the plot could have handled some tropes being left out. There was an enormous opportunity for creativity that was missed, however, I’m counting on the hopefully second season to deliver on that.

 - The Gorilla. Why? I know that it was essential for the main character to still deny the existence of the supernatural that early in the show, so the use of phantasmal creatures was not an option. But I think introducing a Gorilla in the desert was a bit too much, especially with the laughably bad VFX job that they tried to hide with dim lighting for most of the shots.

 

Overall, Paranormal is not perfect. It has nothing that hasn’t been explored in the genre. But it also has aspects that are endearing enough to make you bing it overnight without a break. It makes you deeply invested in the characters portrayed, despite not having anything in common with them. The protagonist is surprisingly relatable, the world-building is believable, the color palette is pleasing to the eye, and the script is the cherry on top. As the brilliant Bong Joon-ho once said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. Or in this case amazing tv shows.

 

 

 

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