The land of Arabian Nights has given us a spectacular collection of paranormal stories. Popular ones being, the quest of Sinbad the Sailor, Mummy Stories, and Aladdin. What all the stories from the middle east had in common was the constant involvement of supernatural, magical, or mythical elements in their narratives. These Paranormal ingredients made these stories stand out from those told in the West. Netflix’s Egyptian series, Paranormal is an excellent addition to the list.
Paranormal comes from the hearts of mummy land, Cairo, Egypt. Directed by Amr Salama and Majid Al Ansari, the first season includes six episodes of one hour each. The narrative is based on the supernatural book series, Ma Waraa Al Tabiaa written by Egyptian author, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik. For the most part, the plot seems like a horror fantasy drama but the protagonist and his quest give it a psychological touch. The plot is gripping throughout but before discussing what makes Paranormal so bewitching, let’s explore the story it chronicles.
‘Paranormal’ Season 1 Summary
Paranormal is set in Cairo, during the late 1960s. It begins with a group of kids in a building playing hide and seek, until a boy finds something unusual under the staircase.
The narrative then showcases it’s main protagonist, Dr. Refaat Ismail (Ahmed Amin), a retired Egyptian doctor who now teaches hematology in a university. Refaat is a pessimistic human being, who is an ardent believer of Murphy’s law that constitutes that if anything could go wrong, it will go wrong. Refaat believes he is an utterly unlucky man and whatever he touches becomes paranormal. Though Refaat himself doesn’t believe in paranormal or supernatural things, and is a passionate non-believer who would go to any extent to deny the existence of ghosts, monsters and spirits.
The first episode establishes Refaat’s beliefs and his character. We meet the other prominent characters of the series, that includes Refaat’s sister and her husband, Refaat’s fiance Huwaida and Refaat’s limping brother.
On Refaat’s birthday, he meets his old forgotten love and classmate, Maggie who has come back to Cairo from Scotland for research purposes. Refaat invites Maggie for a family get together at his sister’s house. It is at this family dinner, the narrative explores Refaat’s childhood interaction with a ghost, Shiraz (spirit of a young girl). Shiraz was Refaat’s childhood love who used to live in an abandoned burnt house in his village. It was Shiraz’s dreams that still haunt Refaat and he never ever got rid of it.
As soon as the first episode ends, establishing the necessary plot, the story quickly rides towards a mini quest solved by Refaat and his friends, that finally leads to the maze of his mind, where the real monster resides.
Mini – Quest Narrative
The story of Paranormal is inspired by the fantasy drama novel Ma Waraa Al Tabiaa, which acts as an advantage to the whole narrative. The series never feels short of new gripping information that keeps the attention and investment of the viewers intact. There are several mini-quests that have been pursued in these six episodes each of which revolves around a paranormal element. Refaat involvement in these mini-quests that include mummies, forbidden flowers, desert monsters, spirits, and the devil himself, influences a change in his disbelief of supernatural elements.
Dr. Refaat Ismail – A Hero in Greek Tragedy
The first visit to Refaat’s character will give you no vibe to ascertain that this is the lead protagonist of the story. Like all great antiheroes, he is cynical, flawed, and a pessimist. Though the incidents in Refaat’s journey change him internally and exhaust him externally. These obstacles provide enough ground for Refaat’s character to monitor his flaws and make necessary changes to evolve. I haven’t seen any other Egyptian Series before Paranormal, but this one sure made me a fan of their work. This series has worked on the characterization so brilliantly that it is hard to miss the nuances that build Refaat’s character. He has every required flaw that could be investigated or explored to create an epitome of character arc. The whole series explores the idea that man is the victim of his own mind, and “the monsters in your mind are scarier than the monster itself.” It is the basic theme or conflict, Refaat is suffering from and how he overcomes it, has been skillfully chronicled.
Refaat’s journey to these mini-quests, to some, may seem like the trips of Indiana Jones, where the danger was created by both known and unknown. The unknown here being paranormal. The treatment could be similar, but the way they have been executed and portrayed gives away so many fresh plots and characters that it is hard to stop raving about them.
A special mention to dialogues and quotes that are narrated with brilliance in each episode, mostly spelled out by Refaat himself. He initially used to quote famous American Engineer Edward A. Murphy Jr, but later coins his own laws, quoted as “Refaat’s Laws.”
(Mild spoiler Ahead)
Maze is Thy Mind
Refaat is not a superhero. He is a flawed human that demands answers to elements, that even science fails to understand. Though it is Refaat’s own internal conflict that blurs his vision to see the truth. The paranormal elements are just minute physical obstacles that are enhanced by the protagonist’s own ignorance. In short, Paranormal create an example that it isn’t always required to create a powerful antagonist but one can make a weak antagonist strong by having around an ignorant protagonist who is in denial of danger. This cause-and-effect relationship works perfectly for the series. It has an equal measure of both internal and external conflicts of a protagonist, which creates a gripping narrative.
Refaat keeps everything inside himself. He never expresses his love nor his fears. This in-expression and denial create a cloud of darkness in Refaat’s mind that seeds monsters. The psychological details have been marvelously tracked throughout the plot. Some are even supported by memorable references, like Murphy’s Law and Law of Lucid Dreams. These portions, not in any way, sound imitated. It looks like an original fictional integration in writing and dialogues that is going to leave an intelligent audience, spellbound.
It is really hard to judge Paranormal, while one is still watching it. For some part initially, it looked like an Indiana Jones narrative where a cynical man is placed to solve the quests. But in the later episodes, Refaat’s mind becomes the center of attraction that creates a more grasping narrative. It can be perceived as a journey, where a man is tricked by his own mind until he takes charge and tricks his own mind. Thus, creating a complete circle of the hero’s journey. The message being, we look for the answers in vast lands and heavy literature while in actuality, the answer lies within ourselves. Refaat understands this and exclaims,
“If I had known that one day, hide and seek would become so important to me, I would have focused on it instead of medicine.”
This phrase becomes his reality in the ending episodes when people approach him to cure people of the ghosts. He becomes popular for something, he never believed in.
Paranormal ends with an open end, where Refaat is challenged by the devil himself, and thus it lays the ground for further seasons. As it is based on a series of books, the creators would really have enough material to come up with an equally gripping plot. It would be an interesting watch to see what new quests and obstacles await Refaat and how he is going to solve them.
If you are looking for something to binge, that is both gripping and entertaining and yet tickles your intellect, then look no further, because Paranormal has everything you are looking for. I wouldn’t mind calling it one of the best series of the year and my favorite Egyptian Series so far. The series is based in Cairo and thus it’s characters mostly converse in Arabic Language. I hope you don’t mind watching interesting stories supported by English Subtitles.
Paranormal Season 1 is streaming on Netflix. Don’t miss this one.
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