There are some things in this world that just can’t be explained. While you could point to the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot as fake, there’s no denying that numerous urban legends and bumps in the night remain unexplained. For every believer out there, there’s a sceptic ready to debunk any and all of these ideas with sound science or rational debate.
We’ve of course seen this dynamic play out on the small screen before, most notably in the form of The X-Files which featured the enigmatic team-up of Mulder (the believer) and Scully (the sceptic).
Netflix’s new Egyptian series Paranormal is not The X-Files but it does draw some parallels to that series. With 6 episodes that dive into (yep, you guessed it) the paranormal, this horror/drama mash-up combines some light frights with an engaging haunting story that makes for a riveting 6-episode ride.
Based on the thriller book series with the same name, Paranormal sets its sights on the 1960’s, with chain-smoking non-believer Dr Refaat Ismail working at university. Haunted by literal ghosts of his past, Refaat refuses to acknowledge that the supernatural world exists, writing it all off as silly superstition. Until it manifests right before his eyes, that is.
Weaving a delicate balance between episodic cases and a serialized haunting, Paranormal is a surprisingly balanced series and manages to juggle both of these story webs nicely across its first season. From ladies of the lake and mummified curses to a spiritual entity that continues to haunt our characters throughout, Paranormal doubles down on its ideas and leans heavily into its horror vibe.
Tonally though the series isn’t an outright horror fest. There’s some intentionally funny moments dotted throughout to fall into that campy territory of this genre. In particular, there’s a clever narrative device at play that sees Refaat’s thoughts projected through narration across the season.
What begins as a funny way of disguising Refaat’s rude off-handed remarks to those around him actually works to show how conflicted he is about different things in his life.
That confliction comes from two main sources. The first is simple – Refaat is a sceptic and refuses to believe in the supernatural. Only, the things that happen around him just cannot be explained through rational means. Eventually as the season continues, he’s forced to pursue increasingly irrational and spiritual methods to try and solve his cases.
The second source of confliction comes from Refaat’s love life. The Professor is engaged to Huwaida, although he continuously “forgets” to wear his engagement ring and doesn’t seem too enthused by her presence.
To complicate matters further, brilliant red-head Maggie returns from Scotland and immediately piques his interest. It’s obvious these two had a will they/won’t they romance going on in the past and it causes Refaat to question his life choices.
These two conflicts continue to dance seamlessly right the way through the season, eventually crescendoing into a finale that sees both of these come to a head. This works to build up Refaat as a complicated but utterly fascinating character that’s easy to warm to and easier to understand.
Thanks to the amount of attention spent on Refaat, a lot of the supporting characters do fail to stand out as that memorable. Refaat’s family in particular do get some screen-time but they fail to match the charisma of our main star.
That’s to say nothing of our romantic love interests either who both seemingly revolve directly around Refaat without many memorable segments or individual bursts of brilliance to shine.
Despite that, and a bit of a lull midway through the season, Paranormal manages to produce a delightfully spooky little series. While it’s not outright scary, it is a lot better than The Haunting Of Bly Manor. There’s some likable characters, plenty of mystery and some compelling episodic cases to keep you watching to the end.
This is certainly one of the better series to come out of 2020 and well worth a watch.