NEW YORK — This film could also be called ”The Mom Who Cried Bastard.” In a tremendous performance, Harley Cross creates one of the most frightening screen kids in memory.

He’s not scary like in ”The Omen,” although one wouldn’t be surprised to find three 6’s hidden on his scalp. This 12-year-old child is every mother’s nightmare. He’s wild, disruptive, violent, totally disobedient and just a regular pain in the ass.

Argentinian director Juan Jose Campanella’s psychological thriller, ”The Boy Who Cried Bitch,” is mostly effective as a platform for some impressive acting. The power of the mother-son performances overshadows some major stretches in the story line’s credibility.

In spite of the bravura performances, ”The Boy Who Cried Bitch” is going to be a tough sell at the box office. Its dark subject matter and heavy-handed treatment is sure to turn off the majority of filmgoers. You can’t blame them for not wanting to get depressed.

And, despite the seemingly offbeat, humorous opening, the film soon reveals itself to be anything but light. Single mom Candice Love (Karen Young) must have done something awful in a previous life. Why else would she be cursed with three unholy terrors, namely her sons. In the opening minutes we witness the boys destroy the living room, call their mom a slut and throw their chicken dinner at her.

It isn’t long, however, before we realize that mom should start worrying about her next life. She’s no Donna Reed. Let’s face it, would sweet Donna whip out her breast in front of Jeff and Mary? Well, Candy does for her boys.

Basically, she is a self-centered, compassionless woman. But even that doesn’t wholly explain Danny’s (Cross) behavior. He makes the other two look angelic by comparison. He is frightening as he practically knocks down mom’s bedroom door with a hatchet, and if Candy isn’t scared of her own son it’s only because she’s stupid.

Eventually, even she realizes he is out of control, and sends him to a psychiatric hospital. Yet even in that environment, Danny is an outcast. It’s a sad story, to be sure, but it’s told in such a grim, hopeless way that the ending seems to be a foregone conclusion. Whether or not that’s the case doesn’t matter, as the viewer is no longer an interested participant.

Cross is overwhelming in his electrifying portrayal of a disturbed boy whose cries for help and love fall on a deaf mother’s ears. We may lose some interest in his character, but never in the performance.

Young is also quite convincing as the bitch of the title. You just want to slap some sense into her. If at first we’re sympathetic toward her, by the end we just want Danny to put her out of our misery. It takes a strong actress to make us despise her character so much.

Cinematically, Campanella effectively uses the camera to create the proper atmosphere. Particularly nice is the claustrophobic scene where Danny is lured into the maintenance man’s room. It’s a tense moment. But the gripping feeling of the film dissipates as time goes on.

”The Boy Who Cried Bitch” is as off-balance as its two main characters. It’s a difficult film to get through, but the acting is so good that it’s worth the effort.