Emirati director Majid Al Ansari's thriller Zinzana is hard to forget. The 2015 film pits a man imprisoned in a remote police station for a minor offence against the sadistic ploys of an officer. Despite being the first of its genre produced in the UAE, Zinzana was a top-shelf thriller that was as suspenseful as it was unsettling. In short, it was the kind of film that made the heart race and the hairs at the nape of the neck stand.
Many have been eagerly waiting to see what Al Ansari would come up with next. Fast-forward five years and Dubai's thriller extraordinaire has taken up the role of director once again, this time for the series Paranormal.
The Netflix-produced show marks the first time Al Ansari has not spearheaded a project he has worked on. But that's not to say the Paranormal experience has been any less rewarding.
"With Paranormal, it was just about having the right team, the right people and the right story," says Al Ansari, who didn't want to give up the chance of being part of the team that bought the novels of Ahmed Khaled Tawfik to the screen.
Al Ansari says he and the show’s creator and co-director, Amr Salama, worked together on how to approach the show before filming began. “We had a great synergy,” Al Ansari says. The pair, who each directed three episodes, kept in regular contact to ensure there was cohesion across the series. "It was a very interesting experience and I loved it," Al Ansari adds.
After all, Paranormal was Salama's vision. "For me, it was more about discovering what was in Amr's head and how he wanted to portray character themes. Because he directed the first episode, [I was trying to figure out] how would I do the second, third and fourth before he steps in again. It was more about dissecting and going into the journey that Amr has pieced together in his head."
There were a number of things about the show that excited Al Ansari when he agreed to come on board, such as the six-episode format, a deviation from the usual month-long TV series trend in the region.
"I loved it because we get to pay more attention to the writing and the directing, and the image and the quality. I hope this route of giving quality over quantity is continued," he says of productions in the region.
This project also marks the first time Al Ansari worked with Netflix. “They’re give-and-take discussions,” he says of his relationship with the streaming giant. “We put a lot of energy into this project and we were all passionate about it – from Netflix to the crew.”
Al Ansari became part of the team after being approached by executive producer Mohammed Hefzy. "We had worked together on (vampire horror film) Bloodline in Romania," Al Ansari says. "Hefzy clocked that I'm a fan of genre films, mostly horror and thriller. Then he introduced me to Amr, who turned out to have seen Zinzana and it just went from there."
So why did it take so long for Al Ansari to jump back into the director’s chair? The Emirati director served in the military between 2017 and 2018, an experience, Al Ansari notes, that was the "highlight of my life".
His time in the military is set to inspire his future projects, with the director adding the experience "affected me in a positive way".
Al Ansari has a new project in the pipeline, though would not be drawn on what his upcoming directorial effort will be about. He did, however, tease that it would be a thriller.
“I’m not sure why but I’ve always been drawn to the thriller genre. I guess there’s something deep and dark inside me and I love it.”