This is a deep dive into Episode 1 of SBS’s brand-new original drama, ‘The Hunting’. Spoiler alert! We discuss some major scenes that set up the four-part series.
You know when you watch a movie set in the dark ages and you think, “yeah, my life is kind of stuck in neutral, but hey, at least I’m not a peasant in 12th century France!” Well, watching the first episode of The Hunting, SBS’s new series about teenagers wading through the murky waters of relationships, sexuality and technology, made me feel grateful I’m not in high school in 2019.
I finished school in the early 2000s. I got my first phone – a shiny, electric blue Nokia 6610 – on my 16th birthday. It stored about 20 messages. It had about five ringtones. And blissfully, it had no camera. It was hard enough being a teen then, without the added pressure of having the internet and social media right in your pocket.
The Hunting is confronting viewing. It’s not easy to watch, as a kid or an adult. But it shouldn’t be. It should make us nervous and wake us up: this is our world, this is what we’re doing to our kids, and what they’re doing to each other.
The first episode of The Hunting doesn’t hold back, diving straight into a sexy skype session between teens Andy (Alex Cusack) and Zoe (Luca Sardelis). They’re chatting, flirting, trying to turn each other on. Before long, they’re masturbating. She’s into it just as much as him. And can I just say how excellent for a series to show women who instigate and enjoy sex just as much as the blokes – there should be more of that on TV. But what Zoe doesn’t know is that Andy’s recorded the whole thing and screenshotted the best bits to show his mates later.
In another bedroom, Nassim (Yazeed Daher) is woken at an ungodly hour by his father. A Morning Glory flower in the garden is blooming for the first and only time and his son must witness it. “There’s a biological clock that triggers the flowers,” he says, “Once the clock is set, if I were to put it inside in a cupboard, it would still bloom.”
Nassim’s dad (Rodney Afif) is awesome. Raising him alone while his wife is back in Beirut, he understands that at a certain point, things must happen, because that’s the cycle of life: We must all grow up. We’ll all fall in love. And yes, we’ll want to have sex.
On the bus to school, Andy kicks another kid out of his seat so he can sit next to Nassim. In case it’s not already clear, Andy is a bit of a douche. He’s struggling under the pressures of an International Baccalaureate combined with the demands of the soccer team. He needs to talk to his dad about pulling back. Nassim is besotted by Dip, a girl in his class. He needs to tell her he likes her. It’s a perfect scene about the expectations and fragility of masculinity. Nassim and Andy are mates, but there is an underlying menace to the way they make fun of each other. They’re measuring each other up. It’s a total, terrified power play.
Time to meet some more adults, like Nassim’s maths teacher, Ray (Sam Reid) and the school’s Assistant Principal, Eliza (Jessica De Gouw), both way more flirtatious than you want to imagine your teachers being. Three girls are giggling at a dick pic and Ray is doing his best to ignore them until the whole class is ogling and he has to step in. He’s forced to tell the Principal (played by National Living Treasure, Pamela Rabe) who is then forced to call the police. The kids who sent and received it will be expelled. Her hands are tied: technically they were sharing child pornography.
Ray and Eliza can’t believe the police are necessary; these are horny kids, not criminals. Eliza wants the staff to be able to teach about underage sexuality and consent. The Principal knows that won’t happen without the support of the whole school board and by Rabe’s magnificent eyeroll we know the school board still reckon abstinence is the only appropriate form of contraception. Ray can’t believe a kid is going to be expelled because he sent his girlfriend a photo of his penis.
It’s an issue the show is determined to tackle: what to do about sexting between minors under the law. Too many adults shake their heads, aghast that kids keep taking and sharing photos without trying to understand why. This is the first generation who have grown up completely surrounded by technology, sharing every part of their lives. Gifs and memes and texts and selfies are how they’ve learnt to understand the world and communicate with each other. So, of course it’s also how they’re going to discover sex and intimacy. Trying to apply 20th century solutions, like calling the cops, for 21st century problems is only going to push kids further away.
Ray gets this. He doesn’t report the incident, but confiscates Nassim’s phone when he later finds him with a nude selfie, sent by Dip (Kavitha Anandasivam). She has deeply conservative parents, so they have chaste “maths tutoring” dates until one day they sneak to the beach. It’s adorable. They kiss and frolic and Dip tries to teach the besotted Nassim to swim. They’re nervous and awkward and it’s cute as hell, but also really telling just how exciting it can be to be “in person” with someone.
When Dip, hair still smelling of salt, strips down naked in her twinkling, fairy-light adorned bedroom, she takes her photo for Nassim’s eyes only. She feels beautiful and wants to share it with a boy she thinks she loves.
This selfie and Andy’s screenshot of Zoe will set the rest of the series in motion. By episode’s end, both girls have had their compromising images uploaded – without their consent – to a pornographic website where schoolboys seek out nude pictures of girls in their area.
It’s Ray who discovers the site on Nassim’s phone and it’s here we see just how terrifying and deep-seated toxic masculinity is. These boys – and legally, they are still boys – are on the hunt for whatever booty they can get. They talk about girls like they are bait, property, meat. Not surprisingly, Andy is the reason both photos wind up on the site.
“Pics or it didn’t happen” is Andy’s challenge when Nassim tells him about his afternoon at the beach. Under pressure and worried about losing his mate’s respect, Nassim texts him the precious photo, and the damage is done. He puts Dip’s photo up because “she’s hot,” but he uploads Zoe’s in a moment of vengeance, smarting because she turned down his invitation to a party. Andy doesn’t take rejection well. The living, breathing definition of fragile masculinity, he cannot accept that Zoe, who protests uniform codes, has two mums and who his friends have branded “loud and annoying”, doesn’t really care who he is, who his mates are or about his soccer star status.
Andy wants to control how the women around him behave. He thinks Zoe is sexy but doesn’t want her to draw too much attention to herself. He belittles his mum Simone (Asher Keddie) when he thinks she’s flirting with a colleague. And he berates her (not his dad) when both arrive late and tipsy to a parent–teacher interview. Plainly put, he’s a teenage misogynist.
We get a sense of why when we meet his dad, Nick (Richard Roxburgh) a smooth-talking lawyer who gets drunk mid-afternoon, makes subtle digs at the capacity of lesbian parents and buys Simone slinky gold cocktail dresses because they turn him on. There’s only a hint in this episode of the messed-up dynamic in Andy’s household, but if we’re heading for a full-throttle assault from Simone on the terrible men in her life, I am 100% here for that.
What’s definitely brewing by episode’s end is the effect that the #metoo movement is having on women today. The women and girls of The Hunting own their sexuality and won’t apologise for it. Eliza straight up tells Ray to buy her a drink and completely drives the raw, sweaty sex they have later that night. Zoe enjoys masturbating and her two mothers have frank and open conversations with her about sex and pornography. Even though Andy’s father is a bit of a moron, Simone still enjoys their sex life. Even Dip revels in feeling sexy and delights in the idea she’s turned Nassim on when he admits he has an erection under the water.
What we’re also seeing, however, is what women’s empowerment is doing to men and boys. For the first time ever, men are getting the message that things they have been hard-wired to believe about themselves are wrong. They feel like the second sex and they’re terrified: of losing status, respect and power, and because they don’t know how to talk about it, they take vengeance in any way they can.
We’re in unknown territory, up the creek with just a smartphone. And that’s the core of the problem. Bring on episode 2.
New episodes of The Hunting air Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS and are available to stream at SBS On Demand.